- HPV is a virus that causes genital warts
- Certain types of HPV can increase the risk of cervical cancer in women
- HPV is the most common viral STD
- Genital warts can be treated, but not cured
- There is a vaccine that can prevent the most common types of HPV
How do you get it? HPV can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, or direct skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. Genital warts caused by HPV are infectious, but the virus can be passed even when there are no visible warts.
Symptoms. Some cause visible warts, while others stay invisible in the skin or mucous membranes. If warts develop, they may appear any time from 2-3 weeks to several years after contact with the virus.
Complications. Women with some non-visible types of HPV are at greater risk for developing cervical cancer. Men with HPV are at higher risk for cancer of the penis or anus; men who have sex with men should get anal pap smears to see if they have HPV.
Testing. A clinician can often confirm that warts are present without any special tests. A magnifying tool called a colposcopy may be also be used to find HPV-infected tissue. In women, an abnormal pap smear is often the first sign that HPV may be present. The pap test finds pre-cancerous changes in cells on the cervix that are likely caused by HPV.
Treatment. There is no cure for HPV. In some cases, the body’s own immune system clears the virus. In other people, HPV may stay in the body forever.
Prevention. Latex condoms and dental dams offer some protection against HPV, but may not cover all affected areas. Women who have ever been sexually active should get a pap smear once a year. A vaccine can now protect females from the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts.
The vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls and boys and can be given to them as young as 9. It is also recommended for women and women age 13 through 26 who have not yet received or completed the vaccine series. The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
Acknowledgements: his fact sheet was adapted from the Centers for Disease Control.